Sphere

Sphere via Flash PromptShe stood there on the lower level of the ruins, staring at the sphere that had crashed  through from the floor above.

“So,” Joanie said, over her comm. “The good news is, we found the lower chamber.”

“And the bad news?” her supervisor’s voice crackled. The dust and the depth were interfering with the signal.

Joanie hesitated. “Well…”

“Report, Meyers. That’s an order.”

Joanie Meyers straightened her posture even though the comm was audio-only. “We’ve lost integrity of the site. The Titans were playing soccer with a cement sphere, and that’s what caused the cave-in.”

“I knew those boys were more trouble than they were worth. Still, growing up in that high gravity makes them invaluable as hired muscle.”

“There’s more.”

“More?” Even with the static, Joanie could hear the annoyed disbelief in her supervisor’s tone.

“Yes. The sphere they were using as a soccer ball? It’s… hovering. One might even say… suspended.”

There was silence for three seconds, then five, then seven. Just as the tenth second ticked by, the supervisor spoke again.

“Take pictures and video of everything. I’m sending in the Collection Team.”

“Understood.”

The connection closed, Joanie turned her attention back to the floating sphere. She felt a strong desire to touch it, but she knew Protocol would have a fit if she did. Still, what harm could she do, one small-ish humanoid woman?

She stepped forward, picking her way through the fallen stone and other debris. It didn’t look particularly special. It was up awfully high above the floor though.

Maybe she should have been surprised when it came to meet her. Gingerly she placed a hand on the sphere Felt just like stone under her hand, but there was a jolt and then there was a voice inside her head. –Will you be my friend?–

“Yes,” she found herself answering.

–Good.–

When Collection arrived the following morning, Joanie was waiting near the sphere. Her eyes flashed a reflection of it that even she didn’t notice, and when the first member of the team approached her she smiled brightly. “I’m Joanie Meyers from Advance,” she said. “Will you be my friend?”

Truth and Power

Truth

Truth via Flash Prompt“Mommy, why is that man wearing a crown of lights?”

My little girl clutched at my hand as we watched the ritual unfold before us. Was she too young for this? But I answered her question: “He is the embodiment of Truth, that which illuminates us all.”

“Then, why is his face so dark?”

Oh, child. That you must learn such things. “Because, precious girl, Truth is often obscured – that means hidden – by other things.”

“You mean Lies?”

“Sometimes,” I answered. “But sometimes Truth hides in darkness because it’s too real, or too painful, or because we aren’t yet ready to see it.”


Power

Power Touch via Flash PromptAt fourteen, the mirror mocked her, with her acne-prone skin and mousy brown hair. Every time she looked into it, her self-esteem plummeted through the linoleum-tiled floor, and through the carpeted living room floor a story below. She was certain she would never be pretty enough, tall enough, thin enough.

At forty-seven, the mirror no longer mocked her. Instead it told her the brutal truth: She had never become conventionally pretty, or thin, or tall.

She planted her bare feet on the cool tile floor and stared at her reflection with confidence.

Once, its touch had been lethal.

Now, there was power in the truth of a life lived on its own terms.

Forget Ophelia

Forget Ophelia via Flash PromptWe all know that rosemary is for remembrance. Ophelia made that bit of flower-lore beyond famous. Easy to do, what with the dramatic exit she made. Drowning? Really?

Okay, okay, there’s never been firm agreement on whether her death was murder or suicide or just an unhappy accident, but still, who doesn’t hear the name Hamlet and immediately think of Yorick’s skull or that poor, waterlogged crazy girl?

I, on the other hand, died in the prettiest way possible. No, not alcohol. Not pills either.

Consumption.

Oh, you call it tuberculosis these days, but when I was living, it was consumption.

Sure, consumption had some nasty symptoms. You become weak, and your body wastes away until your bones show and your eyes look sunken. And there’s a horrible, hacking cough.

But at the same time?

There’s a rosy glow to your pale cheeks, and while your skin becomes nearly translucent, it remains warm. Hot even. And your lips? Your lips end up being vampire-red up to the very end.

Or at least that’s how it was for me.

It took a while, that whole ‘dying gracefully’ thing. I had three different suitors bringing me flowers and sweets, things to keep me interested – to keep me alive.

But in the end, I never got beyond the occasional chaste kiss with the one boy I really loved.

So, Ophelia can keep her weeds and herbs.

The flower in my hands when I was buried – the flower I carry now to touch the foreheads of innocent lovers in their dreams, and wish them well – it’s the white carnation, the flower that symbolizes purity.


Notes: Special thanks to my friend Debra Smouse for the second layer of inspiration for this piece.

A Murder of Crows

Birdman via Flash Prompt“Psst! Your birds are showing!”

Ren looked around, searching for the source of the whisper and eventually meeting the gaze of an old woman bright eyes and blue-tinted gray hair. She was a jay, then. They were always pointing out the obvious.

“I know,” he said, trying not to be sullen and failing utterly.

“Don’t you think you should do something about it? The pure humans will drive you out of town if they see.”

“I know,” Ren said again, putting a bit of a growl in his throat. Well, he tried for a growl; it came out more like a croak, and he rolled his eyes in displeasure.

“Yes, that’s what they’ll do. They’ll drive you out, the humans will. Drive you out then go looking for more, and then we’ll all be at risk.”

I know,” Ren repeated a third time, letting his anger out. “Look, I’m trying. I know they’re visible, but I can’t… the spell doesn’t work.”

But the old woman was still chattering. Jays tended to do that. “All of us at risk, and then we’ll have to find a new planet, and this one’s so nice, with the plump worms and the tall trees and the skies with room to really fly, and then – what do you mean the spell doesn’t work?”

“I’ve grounded and centered and counted to ten – to fifty, even. I’ve done the incantation. I’ve drunk the calming tea, and no matter what I do, I cannot banish the thoughts of Unkindness for longer than a couple of minutes.”

“Unkindness? Unkindness?” The women tilted her head one way then another, peering at him from one bright eye at a time. “But, you’re not a Raven. You’re a Crow.”

All of Ren’s senses suddenly focused on the old woman. “I’m a what?”

“You’re a Crow. Banishing Unkindness doesn’t work for Crows. You have to banish – ”

“Murderous Thoughts,” he said with her. “I have to banish Murderous Thoughts. I… my mother was a Raven,” he spoke the last five words very quietly.

“I’m sure she was, dear. Happens all the time. She probably pushed you out of the nest much sooner than the rest of your clutchmates, didn’t she? She’d have to, if she knew.”

Ren nodded, his head bobbing in a birdlike way that he usually managed to hold in check. Humans were too perceptive. They might not be able to see his Birds most of the time, but they’d notice the body language that was just a bit… off.

The old woman – the Jay – had gone quiet and still. That was odd, Ren thought. Jays only in did that when they sensed danger.

He looked at her more closely. She was old, yes, but not so old that there wasn’t some plumpness left. And she wasn’t too big… and he could – oh, God – he could hear her rapid heartbeat threatening to burst through her body.

He was a Crow, she’d told him.

He couldn’t reintegrate his Birds with the Unkindness spell – that only worked on Ravens. Crows required… blood. Blood and death. They had to give in to their Murderous Thoughts in order to banish them.

Silently, Ren thanked the Jay, the old woman, before he lashed out.

Hours later, all that was left in the street were a few blue feathers, and a handbag full of birdseed.

 

 

 

No Angel

Swallowing Light via Flash PromptShe called him a god, and compared him to an angel.

He was no angel.

But he might have been a god once. Or maybe he would be a god later, in her future. Time ran in circles around him, and this wasn’t his first adventure in human form.

She knew, of course.

He got the feeling she could see right through him.

“What are you?”  She always asked the question in the middle of the night, after they’d shared physical pleasure. “Are you even real?”

“Didn’t what we did feel real?”

“Well,” she said. “There’s real and there’s real.”

“Is this real?” he asked, and tickled her. “Or this?” he asked and kissed her.

She giggled against his mouth.

He swallowed her laughter. Then he spit out her soul.

He was definitely no angel.

And he remembered now. He wasn’t a god.

He was the devil.

It’s Raining Men?

Raining Men, via Flash Prompt“Well, hallelujah!” Aunt Beulah declared. “It’s just like that song. It really is raining men.”

I glanced out the window to see yet another pair of black-trouser-clad legs slowly descending. “That’s not normal,” I told her. “Less messy than the time it was cats and dogs, though.”

But my aunt, who – in truth – was barely older than me, close enough in age to be my sister, really, was already pinching color into her cheeks and smoothing her cotton calico dress as she bolted for the door.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“Yes, come on. This kind of Rain comes only once, maybe twice, a lifetime. You go and catch one before his feet touch the soil, and he becomes the partner you always wanted.”

“What if you miss?” I asked. Some of the forms coming down weren’t exactly compact. I’d noticed more than a couple beer guts beneath the nondescript suits.

“Most of ’em just disintegrate. Makes the garden soil really rich, though. How do you think my mamma grew such luscious tomatoes in this godforsaken place?”

“Water and sunlight, I suppose,” was my drawled response. “Like everyone else.”

But Aunt Beulah just gave me her ‘you know nothin’ honey-child’ look. Then she pulled a barely-there shade of lipstick from her handbag and used the hall mirror to make sure she got it on right. “You coming?” Her hand was already hovering over the lit-up door-plate. A touch of her palm would activate it.

I thought about how Billy Ray had kissed me under the bleachers the other day when we were supposed to be catching critters for the biology lab. It’d been like kissing cold liver. Gross!

Then I thought about my friend Rhonda Sue and how she had the softest, flow-iest, golden hair and got this sweet blush on her face whenever our eyes met during literature class, especially if we were reading poetry. Kissing her wouldn’t be like liver, cold, hot, or drowned in ketchup, I thought.

“I think I’ll have to find my ideal partner the old-fashioned way, like back on Earth. By meeting them.”

“Suit yourself, Lisanne.” And she disappeared out the door.

Me? I went to the computer to call up the Almanac. Rhonda Sue and I might end up better as just friends who practice kissing sometimes. And there had to be a day when the sky rained women, right?

Just Breathe

Water Portal via Flash PromptThe hardest part, as the water fills your mouth, nose, lungs, is not to struggle. We’re drilled on this when we start the program. “If you struggle,” they tell you, “you could choke and die.”

Instead, we were told, we must stay calm, relaxed.

I start my mantra, chanting in my head before my feet leave the deck. “The ocean is the cradle of life. The ocean is the cradle of life.”  I imagine the sea as a great mother, her blue-green arms keeping me safe from harm.

I plunge backwards into the water. They always push you overboard in the split second when you forget to anticipate the shove. The theory is that if you can’t see the waves coming to greet you, you’re less likely to panic.

But I never panic.

I let myself fall into the ocean’s embrace, and I’m struck by the beauty of the bubbles rising up around me toward the expanding rings of my entry-point. It’s my air forming those bubbles. The former content of my lungs.

The first time I did this, I was terrified. Humans only breathe liquid when they’re in the womb, after all, but once I got past the initial disconnect, the fight against my own instincts, breathing water was as natural as… well, you know.

I feel the gill-slits behind my ears opening and closing – it tickles a little. They pass their undulating movement down my neck, to the two other pairs there. With the bottom one responding to the pressure of the water, I can feel a sort of current in the back of my throat.

The next set of gills – four pair – are on my sides, between my ribs. Those are larger, and just the first one kicking in helps me shake the rapture that is caused by weightlessness, low oxygen, and the salty indigo that surrounds me.

It’s experimental, the body-mod I’m using now, but I’ve been fascinated by mermaids for as long as I can remember, and when I saw the ad in the back of a science magazine, I had to volunteer. Initially, I thought the gills were going to be some kind of external apparatus, but no. They triggered a t-cell here, massaged a little-known gene there, and within a few months I was essentially amphibious.

I move in the water, my nude form completely at home. My gills are functioning exactly as they should. I consider the blue world surrounding me, and feel a pull, a longing to go deeper, to swim further, to stay here in the ocean that has always been in my blood.

The watch strapped to my wrist vibrates. My fifteen minutes are up. I’m supposed to return t the surface, to the boat. Reluctantly, I begin my upward swim, hoping beyond hope that the next trip will be a longer one.

I Scream

Scream via Flash-Prompt“Excuse me,” I say to my husband’s seven billionth perfumed auntie, one more in a teeming mass of tiny old women with perfectly coiffed gray hair, in outfits from this year’s collection at Chico’s (we will not address how I know that), accessorized with a mix of paste baubles and antique pearls. “The restroom is available. I’ll be back.”

I weave through the crowd of extended family, narrowly avoiding a collision with a six- foot-tall woman in an impossibly small wheelchair.

The bathroom at this funeral parlor is a single stall. Good. It has one of the newer kind of air dryers – the kind that blow hot air with so much force that it pushes around the skin on the back your hands. Even better.

I use the toilet. Do my ‘paperwork,’ – my mother’s term, which I’ve adopted – wash my hands.

I activate the dryer once to dry my hands.

For the second go-round, I turn the nozzle face up, and scream into the roaring, rushing air. I let out my frustration with my husband’s conservative mid-western family, and my grief at the loss of his mother, a woman who went out of her way to learn my tastes and styles, to include me.

I scream for my stoic husband who CANNOT scream because that’s just not how he’s made, and I scream for our grand-nieces and -nephews who will never get to go fishing with Grandma V.

I activate the dryer a third time. And a fourth.

Finally, I turn the nozzle back the other way. I wet some tissue to clean up smeared mascara. I take a deep breath and finger-comb my hair back into some semblance of order.

I leave the sanctuary of the bathroom.

Almost immediately, I encounter my husband’s youngest uncle. The one who did the eulogy. The one with the stupid sense of humor and the contagious zest for life.

Specifically, he plants himself in front of me. “Well, now, I’m a hugger.” It’s the North Dakota version of a drawl.

He’s a wiry man. Compact, like my husband. His arms are surprisingly strong for someone two years past a stroke that left half his body paralyzed – he barely limps now.

His aftershave reminds me of my grandfather, who died when I was twenty-one.

“Dear girl,” he echoes the phrase my father- in-law used hours earlier. “She was so happy when you married her son. We all were.”

I’m teary again – we both are.

My husband’s uncles are from the era when men still carried pocket handkerchiefs. It’s sweet. Endearing. He tugs his from his pocket, and offers it to me, but he needs it more and I have a packet of tissue in my purse.

“Thank you,” I say. Not just for the offered hankie, but for the hug, and the words.

I forgot, you see.

I forgot that I’m not just here to console my husband and his family.

I forgot that I’m allowed to be visibly grieving, too.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Dice via Flash Prompt

 

“Fail.”

“I roll to disbelieve.”

“Fail.”

“I roll to disbelieve.”

“Fail.”

“I roll to disbelieve.”

“Fail.”

The room grows colder. The shadows take on form, and reach out to grab me.

Across the table from me, the Other pushes back Her hood.

“Silly boy,” She says, not quite flirting. Her voice is warm and seductive on the surface, but underneath it’s like She’s raking razor blades over my skin. “Even if you’d succeeded, I’d still be coming for you. Disbelieving in Me doesn’t negate My power, only your awareness.”

“But I’m not ready… I’m too young.”

“Not so young,” She counters. “You knew enough to buy the fate dice.” She leans across the table so that Her black eyes are staring into mine, and into my soul. “Try a different wish.”

I think for a minute, and then I know – I KNOW – what I must do.

“I roll to live. ”

“FAIL!”

She kisses me. Her breath is hot and moist but Her tongue is like a dagger in my mouth. I feel Her sucking the life out of me.

Later, I stand in the protection of Her cloak, and watch as my girlfriend Natalie enters my hospital room. I see the woman I love glance at my bed, take in my still form, and sit next to my body. I observe as she pries the dice from my hand.

“I’m glad you’re out of pain,” Nat says. “I know this last year has been hard. The tubes and the chemo… I just wish… I just wish I could be with you.”

Natalie collapses onto my unmoving chest, sobbing. The dice fall from her hand and tumble to the floor, a pair of soft clicking sounds telling me where they’ve landed.

Next to me, She whispers the word I’d wanted to hear. Before. Now, though – if my heart had still been beating, the blood it pumped would have run cold.

“SUCCESS!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Brunch: Thoughts on Community

Suunday Brunch

Once I month, I write a column called Sunday Brunch at Modern Creative Life. Going forward, I’ll be doing weekly Sunday Brunch posts here, as well.

It’s day twenty-seven of the Dog Days of Podcasting, an annual event where twenty or thirty people attempt to post a podcast episode every day for thirty or so days. Originally founded by Kreg Steppe, it was his attempt to get back to the old-school days of podcasting, when it was very much an indie – even underground – hobby, and shows weren’t as slick and commercial as they are now.

I was not involved in that first year. And I wasn’t invited into the project by Kreg, because I didn’t know him. In fact, at the time, I barely listened to podcasts at all, though I remember attempting to – unsuccessfully – several years before.

In any case, this is my fifth year with the project – challenge – whatever. But it’s only my third year truly participating in the community that has coalesced around the challenge.

And that’s what I want to talk about in this piece.

Community.

We all have several communities that we interact with during our lives. When we’re very young, we have the community of our family and immediate friends. For me, that community extends to people who aren’t biological relations, but who have been in my life, my family’s life, since before I was born. Helen, Robert, Tess, Cheryl, and Alisa you represent the core of that group. I don’t tell you enough – maybe not ever – but I love you all.

As we get older, we have the community of our school friends. Sometimes that community is an extension of the first, but for me, it really wasn’t, and honestly, I haven’t kept in touch with most of my friends from school – from any of the schools I attended (there were many) – but Jennifer from USF,  Geoff, Joy, Juliette, and Robert from Fresno, and Toby from Modesto – even if we don’t talk a lot, even when we don’t agree on everything – I’m glad to have the contact we do.

Our lives often go in directions we never expected. Our interests develop, fall away, change, and grow. In my early twenties, I started playing online roleplaying games – MUSHes – and found a new community among other players. Some of them I only know online. Many I’ve met in person, shared meals with, cried with, laughed with, and hugged (but never enough). I met my husband that way – in fact, I can legitimately say I met Fuzzy on another planet, since we met on a Pern MUSH (but not the PernMUSH).  But Elana, Jeremy, Clay, Veronica, Julia, and Victoria are all in my life because of that kind of gaming.

More recently, I’ve found another game-related community in the Klingon Marauders fleet on Star Trek: Timelines. I’m using their handles because while I know some of their real names, I don’t know them all, but Stones, O Captain, Deli, Rowden, Admiral Scarborough, Khalessi, Videm, Grease Monkey, Q, McCracken, and the much-missed Worf – I don’t think any of you realize how much you mean to me.

Communities come in various forms. I’ve had church communities and choir communities, and a community of fellow improvisers. I have a small community of writing friends – Debra, Becca, and Roxanne among them and I have a group of friends that began as fans of an epic fanfiction series I’m still writing, and have become close friends, advisors, and even, when needed, a sort of Brain Trust: Berkley, Elizabeth, Caroline, Clariel, Fran, Hannah, Karla, and Selena you have been my supporters, my cheerleaders, and my friends, and I’m grateful for all of you.

Sometimes, communities overlap. Clay introduced me to Tabz, and through her podcast dramas in the Buffyverse, I met Kim, Heidi, Robin, Crystal, Brian, Jancis, Mark, and Nuchtchas. (Yes, O Encaffeinated One, we met through Tabz before I was part of DDOP). It was Nuchtchas (and Tabz, but somehow, I remember it being more Nuchtchas) who invited me into the Dog Days of Podcasting, who gave me pointers, and encouraged me until I’d figured out what I wanted BathtubMermaid to be. (I’m happy with the content now.)

Clay and Brian, on the other hand, introduced me to Sage, and it’s through her that I got to know Jancis better, and actually interacted with Kymm (that’s Kymm with a Y) whom I’d been crossing paths with for years doing Holidailies.

And then there’s the Dog Days Peeps. I can’t name any of you without wanting to list all of you, but Kreg and Chuck have been incredibly welcoming since Day One, so they get special shout-outs. You’ve never made me feel stupid for not knowing how stuff worked, or unwelcome because I wasn’t an original member of your circle. Thank you for that. And Jay, thank you for coming to play in my sandbox.

As is the nature of living organisms, Communities ebb and flow. Sometimes you’ll have intense relationships with only a few members of a community and more casual ones with the rest. Sometimes you’ll feel like there are people who don’t ‘get’ you, or you don’t really understand. I’ve come to learn that this is normal. It’s not bad or wrong, it’s just life.

The vast majority of the people in my most frequently inhabited communities, I’ve never met in person. But this doesn’t diminish the connections we have. Together, we’ve been through marriages, divorces, births, deaths, successes, failures, hopes, fears, dreams, and brutal realities. We’ve watched storms together, and prayed for those in the center of those storms to be safe. We’ve mourned the loss of cultural icons together, and shared opinions on new projects (I’m talking about you, Star Trek: Discovery.) The fact that much of this happens online isn’t relevant.

We don’t always agree on politics, on religion, on whether or not Tecate really is the best beer (though the first sip of the day – of anything – is absolutely the best), but when one of us is in trouble, we reach out.

From all of you, I’ve learned, or been reminded, that the only stupid questions are those that go unasked, and that accepting help when you need it is just as important as giving it when you can.

Thank you, all of you, for being part of my communities.